Private-cash school work 'to hit deadline'

THE consortium behind a troubled £43 million project to refurbish secondary schools in the Lothians has insisted it will complete the work on time - despite being nearly three weeks behind schedule.

The Public Private Partnership scheme has been beset with problems since work began last year, with the collapse of the main contractor Ballast at Christmas causing workers to walk off site.

In a report to the education committee tomorrow, councillors will be given the latest estimates of final completion dates for the schools, showing they are on average around two-and-a-half weeks behind schedule.

But Innovate, the consortium overseeing the building work on the school sites, has told council officials it believes they will catch up and all work will be completed on schedule.

This means all the schools will be finished by August 2005, when the last work is carried out on Knox Academy in Haddington.

Six secondary schools are being refurbished under the scheme, which will also see a community learning centre and swimming pool built from scratch.

Musselburgh councillor John Ross, the council’s education spokesman, said he was pleased with the progress that had been made by Balfour Beatty since it took over the contract earlier this year. And he said he fully believed the work would be completed on schedule.

"The situation is we are catching up with the delays caused by the collapse of the original contractor," he said.

"We are now at a stage where we are just about back on the original timescale for completion. Work is ongoing at every one of the venues and the community learning centre [in Musselburgh] will be opening within the next few weeks.

"Another positive note is that the fears many parents had that the work could have an effect on the exam results of students have not come to be realised. The results for secondary pupils in East Lothian were again excellent.

"I am sure that 12 months from now everything will have been completed and the youngsters of East Lothian will have a fantastic environment in which to learn." The council report states that Ross High School, in Tranent, will be completed in April 2005, while Musselburgh Grammar School and North Berwick High School are both set to be completed in March next year.

Dunbar Grammar School is expected to be finished by December this year.

Haddington councillor Charles Ingle, a vocal critic of the way the project has been handled, said he was pleased that it now seemed to be back on track.

"This project has been an unmitigated disaster from the very start, so it is encouraging to hear that the timetable will be met, although we have been told that before.

"I am slightly disappointed that Knox Academy will not be completed until next August, as the original idea was to have all the schools started and finished at around the same time, but that is not the big issue.

"That is, how on earth we got into this mess in the first place, and I only hope that at the end of it all we have state-of-the-art facilities that will give our pupils the best possible opportunities for education."

Pupils at Ross High, North Berwick High, Preston Lodge High School in Prestonpans and Dunbar Grammar all started the school year late and the report also outlines the various reasons for that. Heavy flooding delayed the opening of Ross High while operational difficulties meant the other three also started up to a week late.